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Tuesday, Jan 4, 2011
The video guy (or girl) isn't attractive simply out of an immediate reflexive response to him but because of an ongoing and ever evolving coexistence shared with him.

I’ve always tended towards the idea that Avatar is about the plight of a gamer. The protagonist Sully, caught between a live action world and an animated one, directly experiences a generational and cultural divide that bears far more on the nature of what deserves to be called real (or meaningful) than just simply what happens to be moral at the time. The fact that James Cameron himself refers to the digital system of creating Pandora as “like a video game” only seems to enhance this view—as does my favorite scene in the film, in which Sully reaches out to his surrogate father, the Colonel, explaining the rite of manhood ritual he is undergoing for the Na’Vi tribe. Sully is greeted with a look akin to a father hearing that his son is going on about that damn World of Warcraft again; instead of validation or approval, Sully’s told that the whole thing is just absurd—and worthless.


It’s quite clear that we adore our fictional loves (be they in movies or in games). Avatar, if it is about anything above and beyond Cameron’s environmentalism and noble savage cliches, is most definitely about this romance with the virtual. It’s really no accident that in Cinema 2: The Time-Image Gilles Deleuze defines the “virtual image” as being the nature of the cliche: something represented instead of directly perceived, something that bears on our preconceptions about others before our sense of objectivity about them.


The power of the virtual image is the reason for women like The Matrix‘s Trinity, Tron: Legacy‘s Quorra, Avatar‘s Neytiri, Scott Pilgrim‘s Ramona, and all the other latter 20th and early 21st century “video girls,” reaching through the screen to gratify an abstract (usually male) fantasy in an extension of the titular Video Girl Ai of the early 1990s. It is the reason that in updating the Tron franchise, Disney eliminated the only “real” woman of the canon—Lora—and emphasized Olivia Wilde’s walking, talking, fighting, persistently adorable, virtual girl Quorra instead. She is better than real, you see. The Japanese posters in particular seem to make her grin like a live-action anime girl. Offered just a peripheral glance and you might mistake her for a hidden Final Fantasy XIII character, and why not? Virtual, like sex, sells.


Tagged as: bioware, dragon age
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Monday, Jan 3, 2011
While others are looking forward to the new year, the Moving Pixels podcast takes a look back at the best of last generation gaming.

Certainly, it is time to usher in the new, but the Moving Pixels podcast crew decided to pause to reconsider gaming during the cusp of the last decade.


With that in mind, each of us are counting down our five favorite games of the PS2, Xbox, Gamecube, and the PC gaming era.


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Friday, Dec 24, 2010
In 2010, a few big games seemed willing to take a risk and comment, directly and metaphorically, on current political events. Sadly, only one actually had something to say.

Gaming and politics is not an unusual combination when you think about it. Many games deal with politics, just not real-life politics; politics as a general idea remains oddly popular. Just look at how many games this year revolve around the idea of a revolution:


In BioShock 2, Delta must save Rapture from Sofia Lamb’s perverted collectivism. In God of War 3, Kratos fights to overthrow the monarchy of the gods. In Final Fantasy XIII Lightning and her crew fight against their corrupt government, as does John Marston in Red Dead Redemption. In Fable 3, we’re tasked with violently usurping the throne from our brother, and in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Ezio must economically usurp Rome from the Pope.


But none of these plots play out as a meaningful discussion of modern politics. BioShock 2 at least touches upon some interesting political ideas, but even it stays as far away as it can from current events. These plots are really just narrative shortcuts used to make the hero an underdog because who doesn’t love an underdog? Players want to overcome great obstacles in games, and what obstacle is greater than a king, a president, a Pope, or a god?


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Thursday, Dec 16, 2010
Machinarium’s game design, art style, and narrative themes toy with conventional ideas about humans, robots, and adventure games.

In an industry dominated by fast-paced shooters, streamlined RPGs, and instant-access mobile games, it is easy to see adventure games as niche or even archaic.  The slow-paced, obscure, single-solution puzzles that comprise most adventure games take patience.  The zany worlds of many popular adventure games, such as the Monkey Island and the Sam and Max series can make it seem like adventure games have a language all their own. 


Machinarium clearly follows in some old adventure game traditions.  But, by tweaking long standing conventions and combining them with novel artistic design and storytelling, it creates a unique identity for itself and the player.  Although it is set in a world populated by robots, Machinarium’s gameplay and aesthetic work together to tell a story about humanity.


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Wednesday, Dec 15, 2010
I don't ever want to see the body hit the floor. I want to only hear it. Assassin's Creed has habituated me to play in a way that enforces a certain dramatic performance on my part.

You know the scene in the movie.  Our hero has just left something flammable or explosive behind.  He lights a cigar, enjoys a few puffs, then tosses the cigar over his shoulder.  As he strides slowly and indifferently away, an explosion of flames marks his passing.  Pretty cool, huh?


Countless movies have riffed on this cinematic image.  Richard Rodriguez’s Desperado, for instance, springs instantly to my mind, but there are countless others.  There is a certain cockiness on display in these scenes that develops the hero as a badass in such scenes that seems driven by a number of the details of such a performance.  Part of it is the cool and frequently slow walk away from the scene, part of it is that the hero never looks back at the destruction that he is responsible for.  As a result, we are left with an image of self-assured competence and professionalism on the part of the hero.  He is so certain of the outcome of his actions that he doesn’t even bother to check on his success and has no fear that the flames will reach him.  After all, he understands destruction so intimately and so consummately, why bother?


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